Better than Stealing

The Internet has made it easier than ever to find virtually any digital resource we might want. The ability to locate, download and use a piece of music, a passage of text, a video or a photo for our own use is so trivially easy to do that in the excitement of knowing we CAN do it, we sometimes overlook the question of whether we SHOULD do it.  The idea of the Internet as a place where things are freely shared has become so much a part of our thinking that we sometimes believe we have a right to reuse whatever resources we happen to find online.

One of the casualties of this cavalier approach to sharing can be a loss of respect for the intellectual property of others. In a world where everything appears to be so freely available, it is easy to overlook the fact that someone, somewhere, owns these resources.  We tend to rationalise our use of them, reasoning that if people put them on the Internet they must be willing to share them.  And that’s not always true.  Some people do not want you to take their work without asking.

On the other hand, some people ARE prepared to share their work. There are many who would be thrilled to think that someone wanted to look at their pictures, listen to their music or read their writing. The problem is that we don’t always know the author’s intentions. It would be nice to be able to tell, clearly and unambiguously, what the terms and conditions are for using their work.

This is precisely what Creative Commons sets out to do. Creative Commons is a set of conditions that clearly outlines the terms under which an author will allow their work to be used.  All CC licences require attribution, or some acknowledgment of the author, usually with a link back to the original work.  They provide a distinction between commercial and non-commercial uses, allowing the author to choose whether they will allow someone else to use their work to make money or not.  CC licences also provide options for whether the work must be used exactly as is, whether it can be edited, adapted and remixed, and can also stipulate that a work must be shared under the same conditions as it was made available.

Applying a CC license to your work is easy. The Creative Commons website, found at, provides a couple of simple questions to define the conditions under which author is prepared to publish their work, and then generates badges, computer-readable code and an easy-to-understand license document.  It’s a very simple process that will help make it much clearer to anyone who wishes to use the works exactly what they are legally able to do with them.

The huge benefit for educators is the removal of the many barriers created by traditional copyright. Teachers are able to locate thousands of CC digital resources that can be freely used with students without worrying about violating copyright or interpreting the often vague “fair dealing” law. These digital resources can be used, remixed and, most importantly, republished back to the web, all without fear of a copyright violation since the terms of use are clearly and explicitly stated upfront.

Of course, not every resource will be available under a Creative Commons license, so students still need to be taught about traditional copyright and the responsibilities that accompany it. If suitable resources are not available under CC, and permission cannot be sought for its use, then all the usual copyright restrictions still apply. However, Creative Commons offers a viable alternative for the legitimate remixing of digital media, while providing an excellent environment in which to frame discussions with students about the legal and ethical responsibilities of being a good digital citizen.

This article was written for, and recently published in, Australian Teacher Magazine

CC BY 4.0 Better than Stealing by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

3 Replies to “Better than Stealing”

  1. Thanks for the informative explanation. I recently had a debate with a colleague who interpreted ‘public’ meant free use. This is a great post I’ll direct this person to.

  2. You are right. Creative Commons is such a boon to everyone in education. However – I thought CC was fairly easy to understand. The students I discussed it with seem to “get it” but the teachers are taking longer and seem to be finding it much harder. They tend to believe in “all or nothing” and many do not seem to easily understand the symbols. Maybe it comes from years of trying to “get a handle” on the copyright legislation (which was not always easy to understand). The more written up about CC the better!

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